Vanderbilt unable to complete comeback vs. Duke in rain-soaked affair

Photo by Brent Szklaruk

In a game delayed four and a half hours due to rain, the Vanderbilt Commodores came up short 5-4 against the Duke Blue Devils despite tying the game 4-4 with a two-out rally in the bottom of the seventh and getting two baserunners on and a close play at the plate in the ninth.

The Commodores made things interesting in the bottom of the ninth. With two outs on the board, Pat DeMarco on second and Connor Kaiser on first, Ethan Paul hit a grounder off the first baseman’s glove. DeMarco tried to score from second, but was thrown out at home by the second baseman, ending the game.

When asked about the play at the end, head coach Tim Corbin adamantly emphasized the need to be aggressive and the joint decision between the runner and himself as the third-base coach.

“Send him. I don’t give a damn,” Corbin said. “Put the pressure on the plate. [Duke second baseman Max Miller] made a good play to regain himself. He double pumped. I thought he was going to potentially throw it away, but that’s what we want is for the kids to be aggressive, try to score a run there at the end. It’s kind of in unison. He’s got to be aggressive. I was keeping him going.”

Aggressive baserunning had helped the Commodores score earlier in the game, but cost them at the end. Pitchers Zach King, Tyler Brown, and Patrick Raby threw a mixed bag, showcasing their talented stuff totaling 13 strikeouts, 10 of them swinging. However, they gave up hard-hit balls and the lead in the innings immediately following a Commodore score.

Stephen Scott scored three of the Commodore’s four runs, hitting 3 for 4 with a home run and two doubles, showing off his bat speed and footspeed.

The deciding run came in the top of the eighth when Raby entered the game. Despite finishing the inning with two swinging strikeouts that stranded two runners, he began the inning allowing two straight hits. With runners on first and second with one out, he gave up a double hammered into left field that put the Blue Devils up 5-4.

In the half-inning before, with the Commodores down 4-2 and the Blue Devils bringing in their first relief pitcher of the night, Scott ignited a two-out rally, smacking a solo homerun to right field on a 0-2 count. DeMarco followed up Scott with a single to left.

The Blue Devils second error on a pickoff throw proved to be costly this time around, allowing Demarco to advance to second and score on a double by Connor Kaiser to left-center field, tying the game 4-4.

Kaiser continued to demonstrate the Commodores’ aggressive baserunning, as he stretched out the double barely beating the throw to second. With Paul at bat next, Kaiser also stole third base.

A walk by Paul prompted the Blue Devils to bring in a new pitcher, Ethan DeCaster, with a runner on first and third with two outs for the Commodores. However, Julian Infante, with a chance to seize the lead for the Commodores, struck out swinging on a full count to end the inning.

Infante struggled mightily the entire game, batting 0 for 4 and swinging and missing on numerous pitches throughout the evening. He totaled three swinging strikeouts and a weak pop fly in foul territory, with three of his at bats happening with a runner on on base.

The Commodores first run came in the bottom of the third. With no outs, Scott got the bat head around quickly to line a fastball into center field, and daringly took second, beating the center fielder’s throw which was bobbled. He advanced to third on a wild pitch, and a grounder by Kaiser that the first baseman mishandled brought him home.

Later, in the bottom of the fifth, Scott lasered a stand-up double down the right field line over the first baseman’s head. The next batter, DeMarco, ripped a single into right-center over the second baseman’s outstretched glove bringing Scott home. However, DeMarco aggressively tried to reach second base on the play and was easily beat by the throw.

Corbin praised Scott’s hitting performance.

“Very aggressive hitting got himself in the right counts, and when he did get himself in the right counts he was able to send the ball,” he said.

It was a tale of the middle for King, as multiple of his pitches intended to be down and away instead went down the middle of the plate. The Blue Devil hitters took advantage, as multiple of them turned those pitches right back up the middle of the field, including a two-run single in the bottom of the fourth.

However, the lefty tallied four strikeouts, all swinging, and no walks. King also demonstrated an impressive pickoff throw, catching runners twice taking off to second. However, the first time, Infante and Kaiser were unable to complete the play with the runner sliding in safely to second base. The second time, with more time to complete the play, Infante and Kaiser finished the out.

Tyler Brown, a right-handed freshman, entered in the top of the fifth, looking tall and strong at six feet four inches and 242 pounds in striking out the side. However, he got burned in facing the top of the order the following inning, giving up a single to left followed up by a two-run shot to left into the bleachers and under the scoreboard. Brown finished with three innings pitched, five strikeouts, and two earned runs.

Corbin complimented the pitchers’ resilience and gave Duke credit for continuing to respond with timely hits.

“Thought it was good in areas,” he said. “I thought it was good in response to hits. I thought Raby’s response to that was good. I thought Tyler Brown after the home run, he settled down…we never shut down an inning after we scored.”

Defensively, second baseman Paul made an impressive play in the top of the third, racing to his right to field a sharp grounder up the middle with his glove backhanded while sliding, and in the same motion flipping the ball to Kaiser at second base leading to a double play.

Kaiser added a nice sliding catch on a liner up the middle in the second and a slick play in the ninth going to his left and throwing out the runner at first base.

After dropping the second game of the set, the Commodores look to win the series against the Blue Devils on Sunday at 1pm in what looks to be a warmer and sunnier day for a baseball game.